The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Posts Tagged ‘Strategy

Final Thoughts on “Strategic”

I think Yehuda’s summary is quite fair.

In comparison to Chess, your opponent is actively trying to interfere with your plan, and tactical opportunities arise. Even at the most strategic, tactics will sometimes overide strategy. Clearly in PR you have less strategic influence because there are random elements and more players (which decreases any individual player’s control). Strategy has a scale, and is not a binary “all or nothing.” Even if you think Puerto Rico is strategic, Chess is more so because there is more capability for meaningful long term planning.

My experience playing PR (roughly 75 games) has seen me thinking less and less about strategy as I play more. In the early games I would say “I’m trying this plan or that plan”. With chess, my early thoughts were tactical; my thinking became strategic as I went on. I considered chess more strategic as I played more. My views on PR have moved in the opposite direction as I gained experience. I haven’t heard anything (from people who’ve played many more games) that leads me to think that “my mind will be opened” after another 75 games. In my first dozen games, I debated “The shipping strategy” vs “Building strategies” vs mixed strategies. I don’t bother thinking about that any more. What I think about is maximizing some utility compared to other players. I’ve laid out how that works in some detail.

I looked over the games I have reviewed and few of them qualify as strategic. I don’t think that’s surprising – they are mainly high chance multiplayer games. There are also a ton of auction games, where evaluation of a play’s worth (possibly future worth) is key, just like I think evaluating an action’s value in PR is the most important feature. Some of the games are more strategic than others. The ones that I do think of as strategic tend to be games that I haven’t played deeply. Remember, after 10 Puerto Rico games, I considered it strategic. [I suspect that the reason that Chris voiced the opinion despite so few games was that, as a frequent wargamer, he plays more games that allow for long term plans (even if they have more luck than PR)].

What this discussion has revealed is that I set the threshold for “strategic” above Eurogames. Certainly the question of “Which games do I find strategic” leads me to say “damn few that I’ve reviewed.” And most of the games that I want to claim I haven’t played often enough. I’m not claiming the games are shallow, but almost all of them deal with efficient use of resources and evaluating unknowns. Charting a long term course of action isn’t a big part (although planning matters). I don’t think I’ve ever really thought about it formally like that, but now that I’ve written it out it seems obvious. European games are not, as a general rule, strategic. [Perhaps the abstract are, but I don’t really play them]. I think it’s simply that my baseline is Chess.

I’m not worried about insulting PR (or European games in generally). It’s clearly one of my favorite games in my favorite genre. I’ll concede its one of the more strategic games in the genre, although I firmly believe that there is a dominant strategy with refinements being worked out.

Are Eurogames devoid of strategy or long term thinking? No. But I don’t think they are strategic games, in general. They are on the low end of the scale. Clearly, other people have different scales. I mean, when Chris wrote that PR wasn’t strategic, I thought “Obviously.” The comments on his site surprised me.

“Strategic” means different things to different people. That’s pretty obvious in hindsight, and maybe glib, but there you have it. I’m usually very loose and informal on word usage, so I wondered if I had used ‘strategic’ indiscriminently in the past. On my old website, I’ve called exactly two games strategic: Titan the Arena and Stephenson’s Rocket. The former isn’t, and the latter was one of the ones I mentally said “that qualifies” when browsing earlier. So I think that I’ve always had this belief/bias, but it never occurred to me to bring it up before.

Written by taogaming

February 11, 2005 at 7:51 pm

Defining Strategy

We’re clearly having trouble coming up with an acceptable definition. I’m still trying to find one, and I’ve been using the “I know it when I don’t see it” arguement.

Yehuda Berlinger’s comment helped:

I am not contradicting Alex; I don’t go into a game knowing that I will play “harbor shipping”, or “guild hall building”. In the same vein, I don’t go into a chess game knowing I will play “X offense” or “Y defense”. The situation changes, and you have to adapt. Nevertheless, the patterns are there and you have to know them.

Let’s talk about chess. Yehuda is right, a player can’t completely control the opening, but they can often pick a style: open, closed, attacking, positional, gambit. And while you may not be able to pick the opening, you can usually push the game into a style. You may wind up outside of the style you liked, but your moves determine the style of the game that results. In addition, you can predict the resulting game’s style based on your moves.

Can you say the same about Puerto Rico?

I think this definition matches (at least tangentially) with prior discussions — one of the styles is ‘gambit’ where you sacrifice material now for future considerations (an attack, an open position, etc).

I can go into a Chess game and say “I’ll play a closed, positional game.” Now, I may fail or be outmanuevered, but my intent matches my position. I think it’s safe to say that if you go into a game of PR saying “I’m going to use a building strategy” then you have put yourself at a significant handicap, because you aren’t flexible.

Similarly, once you have a won position in chess, you can try to close it out by going for a brilliant mate, a quiet endgame or a smother. With Puerto Rico, once you are winning you are pretty locked in to how you got there. In either game, sometimes tactics take over, but in only one of them do you have a chance to impose your style on the game.

Once in the mid game, my plan (Building vs Corn Wharf vs whatever) comes from my position. I wasn’t aiming for a building victory (or whatever); but it’s there. No planning required.

So I don’t have a formal definition.

I play Puerto Rico successfully simply by evaluating the current position and making a move. I look ahead to judge the best move, but I don’t have enough control over the game to impose a long-term plan. You can win in chess just by making good moves, but there you can also predict the future game states based on your move.

Incidentally, I think I danced around this with prior definitions (“Can I play vastly different styles with roughly equal outcomes of victory” and “Can I sacrifice short term for long term”).

My style is defined in my strategy guide. I don’t very it, the details are all in implementation. It’s not perfect; but I find two facts enough to contend that PR isn’t strategic:

  1. that people who deviate from it often lose

  2. using my plan, I don’t know going into the game how I’ll get the bulk of my points.

In Chess, I can vary my style going into games without appreciably altering my playing strength (at least between a few styles), and knowing my opening possibilities, I can tell you “I’ll probably have an open/closed game”.

Written by taogaming

February 10, 2005 at 5:07 pm

More About Puerto Rico Strategy

Given the discussion in the comments of my post on Puerto Rico, I thought I’d clarify.

I agree with Chris that PR has no ‘sacrificial choices’ (Giving up short term for long term). I think it’s about brutal optimization and evaluation. I could sit down in the middle of a PR game (taking over someone’s spot) and feel no real handicap that I had to make a move without knowing the previous player’s plan. [I may grumble about the strange position he has … ]. The same could be said of Chess.

Defining strategy is tough — how about “Can I play in vastly different styles with roughly equal outcome of victories?” I contend that the opportunistic style (Playing the best move according to the thesis set out in my strategy guide, by Alexfrog, Jimc, etc) of PR is superior to the ‘set strategies’ put out. Obviously, this strategy is complex.

Now, whether a game counts as strategic depends on the level of play. Chess is strategic for most players, but if the game is solved, the answer may become “No.” 1.e4 wins, 1.d4 losses. [Or some such]. Computers don’t play with a strategy. They have an algorithm that tells them “How good is this position” and a method that lets them search through millions of positions a second to rank moves based on resulting positions. That’s it. But at other levels, players have strategies. World champion chess players have styles, but Chess itself may be solvable. Many positions have an objectively determinable best move, and it doesn’t matter if you play an attacking, defending, sacrificial or loony style. The entire game probably does, too. I think the same is true of PR, even if I don’t always find the right move.
For a chess player “Strategy” means — “I don’t know what the obvious best move is … now what?”

For PR, there are still times when there is no obvious best move (that part would tend to be in the mid-game, like in Chess). I have an algorithm for what to do, but it’s just “maximize net gain.” If I found myself in a hopeless game, I may forgo net gain to lay a trap, but that’s really just maximizing my chances of winning. I wouldn’t call trying to win a strategy, although it’s my objective.

Incidentally, does anyone think that San Juan has strategy?
[I say that as someone who considers it the best game of last year.]

Written by taogaming

February 9, 2005 at 4:38 pm

Posted in Strategy

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